As a memorial to a fallen North Texas police officer grows, the body of Grand Prairie police officer A.J. Castaneda was transferred during a Saturday procession from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office to an Arlington funeral home.
Castaneda, a 5-year veteran of the Grand Prairie Police Department, died Friday after he was struck by a car while working a speed enforcement patrol on the President George Bush Turnpike. The driver of the car which struck him appeared to lose control of the vehicle.
Outside the department Saturday, a memorial to the fallen officer grew, as people stopped to pay their respects. Grand Prairie resident Rosa Leal was moved to tears when she stopped to say thank you to an officer she'd never even met.
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"No, I didn't know him," Leal said. "I always thank them for their service because they do a service for us every day."
To many who visited the growing memorial to Castaneda, the loss is profound.
"It's hard," Leal said. "And it just hurts me."
Through the day dozens of people stopped by the memorial, praying, and placing flowers, cards and balloons. It has become a place to heal -- and to reflect -- on the life of a man who by all accounts was dedicated to work, family and community.
"I have a son who works in a police department. I feel bad about what happened," said Alfonso Soto of Grand Prairie, who said he'd met Castaneda two or three times. "So that’s why I'm here."
Castaneda's relatives visited the memorial Saturday afternoon, but a police spokesman said they were not ready to discuss their loss. Fellow officers said community support will help the department heal.
"When you see this outpouring of support it makes you feel good inside," said Grand Prairie police Det. Greg Parker, who greeted people visiting the memorial. "It makes me think that A.J.'s not going to be forgotten. It makes me think the department's not going to be forgotten as we go through this time."
The Texas Department of Public Safety is investigating the crash. There is no word yet on whether the 17-year-old driver of the car which struck officer Castaneda will be charged.
A candlelight vigil will be held Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Grand Prairie Police Department headquarters. Funeral arrangements for Castaneda are pending.